Bible 3: The Un-thrown stone

Christ and the woman taken in adultery. Netherlands, c. 1500, at The National Gallery

John 8:3-11

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’  She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

In the 2022 Oberammergau Passion Play (deferred from 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic) there was a powerful scene depicting the woman taken in adultery. The woman is surrounded by angry shouting men holding their stones, shouting too at Jesus, trying to get him involved. The angry men try to press a stone into Jesus’s hand. They are desperate to start the violence and the stage crackles with the volatile crowd of people itching to get starting, to draw blood. Eventually, as Jesus admonishes them about sin, they drop their stones in disgust or embarrassment and walk away. Finally, Jesus tells the woman that he too does not condemn her and in a powerful reconciliatory moment, with just the two of them left on the stage, gives her the stone.

This dramatised moment on the stage had tremendous power as the woman was not only set free from death but given back her agency. By giving her the stone, she takes over the object of her ritual humiliation, the violence implied by it, and the demands of the Law it represents. The imbalance of power is righted. She now has choice, an open opportunity to change her life, to start again.

In some countries, sadly, stoning is still a real punishment. Yet just because we don’t have public stoning, doesn’t mean that we are incapable of throwing other kinds of stones. We know how to condemn people we think are sinners; we know how to throw the stones of condemnation, of lack of welcome, of withdrawal of Christian love or kindness. Sometimes the stones we throw are acts of inaction, – not speaking up on behalf of someone, not intervening to protect them from others, not doing enough to raise up those who are vulnerable or different.

The following meditation: ‘the Un-thrown Stone’ sets out some of the ways we throw metaphorical stones in our own lives and how, by following the example of Jesus, we can put them down and surrender them to those we would condemn, dominate or seek to control.

By concentrating on the un-thrown stone, we can seek to be more inclusive, more welcoming, less condemning and more reconciliatory, looking for the good in people, no matter who they are or what they have done, and finding better ways to resolve conflict and to show love and mercy.

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